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WVU Offense Throws a lot at USF

October 15, 2010
By JIM ELLIOTT

MORGANTOWN - Former Marshall coach Mark Snyder thought he had it tough the last time he was in West Virginia.

Imagine being in his a new role as South Florida's defensive coordinator and trying to pick up tendencies of the Mountaineers offense during Thursday night's 20-6 WVU victory against the Bulls.

There were none.

The looks didn't switch from series to series, they switched from play to play.

"That's something that is good for us because we have the personnel," WVU quarterback Geno Smith said. "It really makes it difficult to key on one guy."

Yes, especially if the guy you're keying on is no longer in the formation. Or, you know, on the field.

The Mountaineers showed the more-popular-by-the day, five-wide look - something that is OK in Morgantown, but don't try it at Talladega - they loaded up in the I-Formation and showed off some power, they dusted off the bubble screens (en mass), as they pushed forward with their spread option. That, by the way, is the offense they still try to sell as their primary one in the game notes.

Hardly.

As offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen explained it, if they had to, they might have gone with the Veer, Pistol, Wildcat, or the Wishbone. They did run a trick play, which worked. Whatever it took.

"We threw a lot at them," he said. "This was a game we needed to win."

Both Mullen and head coach Bill Stewart made a point to mention how just one look, particularly the spread, simply doesn't work against South Florida, and the Mountaineers had a sub .500 won-loss record in the series to prove it.

"People just don't understand how fast (South Florida) is,'' Stewart said. "When we go spread, South Florida matches up."

The bubble screens were calculated, as they were looking for ways to slow USF's zone blitzing, maybe even curb it all together.

That's how a guy like WVU's Jock Sanders can catch 10 passes and only gain 31 yards, including a long of 13, meaning he averaged 2 yards on his other nine receptions.

It's also how trick plays can wind up working, as the 'hook and lateral' did for the Mountaineers late in the first half that elevated West Virginia to a 17-3 lead at halftime.

"We'd run screens five or six times (already to that point)," Sanders said.

Certainly the Bulls were ready to wrap up Sanders for a 4-yard loss on the play, as they'd already done many times, never figuring he was going to flip it back to Noel Devine, who took it 11 yards for the score.

Incidentally, here is how the play is scored: Sanders was credited with one catch for minus-4 yards. Devine was not given a reception, but he was granted 7 receiving yards and a touchdown (even though he ran it in from the 11). Smith was credited with a 7-yard TD pass.

It was a play that made Stewart smile. He liked seeing the "dipsy-doo" work.

"Last time I called one of those plays," Stewart said, "it was a double pass and you'd think I was killing people at the grocery store."

He later added that he generally shows little emotion on the sideline, but on that play, "I caught myself with a little bounce in the skip."

Television replays showed Stewart smiling and pointing at a pretty excited Smith, who was still jumping as he neared the sideline.

Anyway, getting back to the play selection, Sanders said he would have liked to have seen the Mountaineers 'take more shots,' but he knew, with the defense playing the way it is, which is as good as any in the country, it wasn't necessary.

"We get 20-21 (points)," Sanders said, "it's in the books."

Mullen agreed with that to a point, as the bullish I-formation was called upon mainly as a means to work the clock and protect the lead during the third quarter.

To that end, one of West Virginia's third-quarter drives ate up 14 plays, 66 yards, and nearly 7 minutes. The result was a field goal.

"Big drive," Stewart said.

That's not necessarily Mullen's favorite way to go about it, but he knows it helps win games. And winning games helps people keep jobs.

"I go into every game thinking we can score 100 points," Mullen said. "The majority of the second half, we were just trying to get a victory."

There's little doubt Mountaineers fans will take issue with that, as they certainly have a step-on-the-throat mentality.

But this wasn't about winning by 100, or even 14. Against South Florida and recent history, winning by one would have been enough.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: elliott@theintelligencer.net